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Genesis 4:1-16 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

Chapter 4

Cain and Abel. The man had intercourse with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, saying, “I have produced a male child with the help of the Lord.”[a] Next she gave birth to his brother Abel. Abel became a herder of flocks, and Cain a tiller of the ground.[b] In the course of time Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the fruit of the ground, while Abel, for his part, brought the fatty portion[c] of the firstlings of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry and dejected. Then the Lord said to Cain: Why are you angry? Why are you dejected? If you act rightly, you will be accepted;[d] but if not, sin lies in wait at the door: its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it.

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.”[e] When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord asked Cain, Where is your brother Abel? He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 God then said: What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! 11 Now you are banned from the ground[f] that opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 If you till the ground, it shall no longer give you its produce. You shall become a constant wanderer on the earth. 13 Cain said to the Lord: “My punishment is too great to bear. 14 Look, you have now banished me from the ground. I must avoid you and be a constant wanderer on the earth. Anyone may kill me at sight.” 15 Not so! the Lord said to him. If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged seven times. So the Lord put a mark[g] on Cain, so that no one would kill him at sight. 16 Cain then left the Lord’s presence and settled in the land of Nod,[h] east of Eden.


  1. 4:1 The Hebrew name qayin (“Cain”) and the term qaniti (“I have produced”) present a wordplay that refers to metalworking; such wordplays are frequent in Genesis.
  2. 4:2 Some suggest the story reflects traditional strife between the farmer (Cain) and the nomad (Abel), with preference for the latter reflecting the alleged nomadic ideal of the Bible. But there is no disparagement of farming here, for Adam was created to till the soil. The story is about two brothers (the word “brother” occurs seven times) and God’s unexplained preference for one, which provokes the first murder. The motif of the preferred younger brother will occur time and again in the Bible, e.g., Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and David (1 Sm 16:1–13).
  3. 4:4 Fatty portion: it was standard practice to offer the fat portions of animals. Others render, less satisfactorily, “the choicest of the firstlings.” The point is not that Abel gave a more valuable gift than Cain, but that God, for reasons not given in the text, accepts the offering of Abel and rejects that of Cain.
  4. 4:7 You will be accepted: the text is extraordinarily condensed and unclear. “You will be accepted” is a paraphrase of one Hebrew word, “lifting.” God gives a friendly warning to Cain that his right conduct will bring “lifting,” which could refer to acceptance (lifting) of his future offerings or of himself (as in the Hebrew idiom “lifting of the face”) or lifting up of his head in honor (cf. note on 40:13), whereas wicked conduct will make him vulnerable to sin, which is personified as a force ready to attack. In any case, Cain has the ability to do the right thing. Lies in wait: sin is personified as a power that “lies in wait” (Heb. robes) at a place. In Mesopotamian religion, a related word (rabisu) refers to a malevolent god who attacks human beings in particular places like roofs or canals.
  5. 4:8 Let us go out in the field: to avoid detection. The verse presumes a sizeable population which Genesis does not otherwise explain.
  6. 4:11 Banned from the ground: lit., “cursed.” The verse refers back to 3:17 where the ground was cursed so that it yields its produce only with great effort. Cain has polluted the soil with his brother’s blood and it will no longer yield any of its produce to him.
  7. 4:15 A mark: probably a tattoo to mark Cain as protected by God. The use of tattooing for tribal marks has always been common among the Bedouin of the Near Eastern deserts.
  8. 4:16 The land of Nod: a symbolic name (derived from the verb nûd, to wander) rather than a definite geographic region.
New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

Scripture texts, prefaces, introductions, footnotes and cross references used in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.


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